« Did you give a name to your Bicycle ? » asks Emre, the Chief Officer of Gisele A, a cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other, his hair still wet from the shower he just took.
It is my fourth day on Gisele A, the container ship bringing me to Alexandria, in Egypt, since I embarked on 20 November 2017 in Fos-sur-Mer, near Marseille. Until now, we’ve had perfect weather conditions : clear skies, a soft breeze and a sea as flat as a mirror.
Days are divided into six 4 hour shifts. Those shifts are taken by three officers and three engineers. Even though the vessel could reach its destination on auto-pilot, there are always three persons on duty to make sure everything is running smoothly. Any incident that takes place on the ship or concerns the ship, needs to be logged in the vessels logbooks. There are two on board. One is on the bridge, from where the vessel is piloted and the other is in the engine control room, located below deck, near the engine room. Before starting a shift, one always goes through the logbook with the person finishing their shift to highlight things one should pay attention to.
It is around 11am and like every day, Master Captain Mete Koçar, Chief Officer Emre Sahinturk, and Chief Engineer Ali Bayram meet on the bridge to debrief the night and discuss operations and weather forecasts for the coming hours and days.
Earlier this morning, during the 4 to 8 am shift, Emre suddenly had to change course as Gisele A was approaching an unidentified floating object. The safety rule decided by ARKAS Holding, the company owning Gisele A, is that ships should sail at a minimum distance of 1 nautical mile (1,85 km) from any object to prevent a possible collision and the subsequent damages that may occur otherwise. This might sound like an excessive precaution, but you have to imagine that a ship like Gisele A is 208 meters long, 67 meters high, 32 meters wide, and weighs more than 65.000 tons. Even though it cruises at a relatively slow speed at around 14 knots (25 km/h), it has a massive amount of momentum that will keep it going, after the engine has been shut down, over several miles before it will stand still. In other words, Emre’s action was swift, but the ships change of course was much slower.
Nevertheless, Emre managed to avoid the object, before recuperating the initial course. While passing along, he took his binoculars to identify the object to complete the logbook and share its precise location to the maritime authorities who may transmit warnings to the other ships cruising in the area, or even send a vessel to fish the object out of the water, depending on the potential hazard it may represent.
But here, it appeared that all the trouble was caused by a… washing machine.
According to Emre, its washing program wasn’t finished as he could see through his binoculars that the button was still on « spinning ». That detail, of course, made everyone laugh on the bridge !
« Did you give a name to your bicycle ? » asks Emre again, once the meeting is finished.
I must admit I had already thought about naming my bicycle and trailer as it is a common thing in the travellers community to name their bicycle, car or backpack when going on a big journey. Yet, how does one decide which name to give to an object that is supposed not only to represent the object itself, but to give it a personality and a symbolic that will link the name, the object and the journey ?
One of the conclusions I came to when thinking about it even before leaving Brussels, is that if I was to give a name to my bicycle, that name should be allowed to evolve over time, along with the journey and the events I will go through. Also, since I am travelling with a trailer, the name I would give to my bicycle and my trailer should make a reference to a duo. And rather than a haughty name, I thought the name should sound a bit ridiculous in order to contrast with the fact that I am giving a name to my bicycle, which, as such, could be considered completely absurd !
Through that thought process I thought about two characters of The Lion King film: Rafiki, the wise monkey, and Pumba, the rough, yet trusworthy warthog, who, like all warthogs, always runs with his tail pointing to the sky. A bit like the safety flag at the back of my trailer.
Yet, I didn’t pursue that hazardous reflexion further as I had more pressing priorities to take care of at the time….
« I’m reading a book about Alexander the Great », says Emre, with sparks in his eyes. « This man has achieved great things. He conquered the world from Macedonia up to India with his horse Bucephalus. You are going to conquer Africa with your bicycle. I think that’s how you should call it : Bucephalus ! »
Now, that startled me as, from my point of view, the journey I am undertaking is a day by day journey. It is actually a journey I started years ago, before leaving Brussels. It even started before planning it, while I slowly got used to the idea of considering my project as something that could happen.
Emre, on his side, was seeing my project from an outside perspective, and I realised he was perceiving my endeavour as a complete chunk.
It is there and then that I realised I was going to cycle across the continent. My bicycle, indeed, deserved a name. Noble and absurd at the same time. What about Rafiki Bucephalus van Leuven and Pumba de Alforja?